Google is starting to remove some search results in Europe – responding to the recent court order establishing a so-called “right to be forgotten” – and some critics of the ruling say the results appear to show their worst fears are coming to pass.
Several British news outlets have reported they were recently notified by Google that certain articles will no longer be listed in search results, apparently after Google received a request from someone mentioned in the article.
A BBC columnist, for example, reported his organization was notified that Google would no longer return search results linking to a blog post about former Merrill Lynch chief Stan O’Neal, who was forced out of his job after his firm suffered huge losses on some risky investments. The Guardian, meanwhile, said it received notices of de-listings about a Scottish soccer coach who was found to have lied about a controversial call.
Google hasn’t explained the specific circumstances of each request it’s received, or who made them. But critics say the examples underscore concerns that prominent individuals might use the court ruling to hide relevant and newsworthy information about themselves, simply because it’s unflattering.
“Publishers must fight back against this indirect challenge to press freedom, which allows articles to be ‘disappeared’ ” wrote the Guardian’s James Ball.
Some other examples appear almost trivial – from an article about French office workers who made artwork out of “post-it” notes, to a report about a couple who were caught having sex on a train – according to a very thorough and thoughtful analysis by longtime Google-watcher Danny Sullivan.
It should be noted that Google is only blocking the articles from results for searches on its European sites (such as www.google.co.uk ). They can still be found if you use the Google’s main engine (google.com). And it’s also worth noting that Google opposed the ruling and appears to be complying with great reluctance.
In fact, some observers have suggested Google may have deliberately chosen the first removals to sabotage the ruling, by angering European press outlets and raising concerns about censorship. Others have speculated that Google is simply struggling with the complexities of complying with the court’s order.
Here’s Google’s statement on the subject, as reported by Quartz:
“We have recently started taking action on the removals requests we’ve received after the European Court of Justice decision. This is a new and evolving process for us. We’ll continue to listen to feedback and will also work with data protection authorities and others as we comply with the ruling.”
In any event, as tech blog 9to5 Google notes, the order may be back-firing, since news outlets that report on the removals are linking and drawing more attention to the ostensibly offending items.
(Photo of Google logo sign by Brandon Bailey)